Hey, mister banjo

Some people have argued that the phenomenon of cover songs is inexorably bound up with racism— white musicians lifting black music. For example, Don McClean wrote that “A ‘cover’ version of a song is a racist tool.” I don’t think so. Here’s part of what I say in a current draft…

…although covers were sometimes used as racist tools, racism is not intrinsic to the concept of a cover as such. As Michael Coyle puts it, crossover covering of R&B hits by white artists “exploited racist inequality but did not arise because of it.” The word cover originally had a sense of coverage which was not in itself tied to race, and covers in that sense continued.

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Mitigating epistemic risk

I just read a nice paper by Gabriele Contessa on the mitigation of inductive risk, cleverly titled On the Mitigation of Inductive Risk.1 His primary question is whether responsibly applying values in science should left be left to individuals or whether there ought to be community-level processes. He offers a number of arguments against the individualistic approach and briefly sketches what a socialized approach might look like.

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Colour me chuffed

Under the headline How philosophy is making me a better scientist, Rasha Shraim discusses how her undergrad degree in Philosophy is helping her in genomics and data science.1

The article ends by recommending Philosophy resources for scientists and, under the heading of Logic and inference, suggests my free textbook forall x.

They don’t link to the webpage for the textbook here at fecundity.com, instead linking to the University of Minnesota Open Textbook Library. Nonethless, they give the citation as “(Fecundity, 2012).” It’s odd to see that in the same sentence as “(Oxford Univ. Press, 2012).”

Open access and the falsest of false dilemmas

It’s been a while since I’ve complained about the narrow understandings of open access that too many people have got, but I’ve been meaning to post about Keith Burgess-Jackson’s provacatively titled Why I Publish in “Predatory” Journals—and Why You Should, Too. He argues rightly that open-access journals have several advantages over traditional journals, but fails to imagine relevant alternatives. To summarize the advantages he discusses:

  1. Audience: More people will read a freely available article than one that’s only available to subscribers and pirates.
  2. Publication speed: Traditional journals can be slow both to review an article and to put it into print.
  3. Length: Traditional journals often won’t publish papers longer than 7-8,000 words.
  4. Ownership: Traditional journals often require authors to relinquish copyright.
  5. Referees: Journal referees often respond in obtuse ways. They either reject a paper for weird reasons or demand unnecessary changes.

On the basis of these reasons, he argues that (a) we should stop publishing in traditional journals and (b) we should start paying open-access journals to publish our papers.

This is the falsest of false dilemmas, and the recommendation he arrives at is pretty bad.

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an excerpt from “The Case of the Classical Stabbing”

“I say, Holmes, how did you know that the crucial evidence would be in the galley of the yacht?”

“It was an elementary inference, Watson. As you were so quick to point out, the locked room showed that the murderer could not possibly have committed the crime and escaped. Yet the body of the victim and the absence of murderer showed that they had done so. I was puzzled until I remembered that everything follows from a contradiction, and this allowed me to conclude that the crucial evidence would be wherever I looked.”

“I see,” I said, although I really did not see. “But why the galley of the yacht?”

Holmes looked at me as if I were missing the obvious. “Because I was hungry. If I could find the evidence anywhere, then I might as well find it somewhere I could also make a sandwich.”

“Right then! But what about relevance constraints on logical consequence?”

“Watson, you disappoint me. If there were relevance constraints on consequence, then I could not have solved the crime. I did, so there are not.”

Then I realized that I, too, could derive anything from the contradiction Holmes had exploited. So Holmes conceded that I was clever, poured me a cup of tea, and left me alone for the rest of the afternoon.

Same words, different meaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about cover versions lately. A cover is typically the same song as the original version. Even if the words are changed a little, the broader meaning is the same. An example I’ve used before is Willie Nelson’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” Where Simon sings about “a girl from New York City”, Nelson makes it “a girl from Austin Texas.”

Yet there are also cases in which the very same lyrics can mean something different, because of a change in who sings them. Consider some examples.

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